Send ’em back or keep ’em up?
A few NHL teams are facing important calls on their young prospects as the nine-game/10-game threshold looms. (Although, to be fair, some of these decisions are no-brainers.)
If a club opts to keep its prospect on its roster beyond the nine-game mark, it burns one year of that player’s affordable three-year, entry-level contract.
A second milepost arrives 39 games into the young rookie’s career. Play a 40th game in at the NHL level, and you inch one season closer to free agency.
As 11 entry-level slide candidates approach the 10-game mark, we take a look at which teenagers will stay in the big league and which ones are likely to be sent down before burning that precious first year of their ELC.
NEED 'EM, KEEP 'EM
When you're 18 years old and leading your entire team in goals and points after nine games, there's a good chance you'll draw in for Game 10. McDavid will be the first candidate to use Year 1 when he dresses Tuesday night.
That other generational talent ranks fourth among Sabres forwards in ice time and has scored three goals through eight games. The scoring chances he creates and the fans he draws make him essential.
Reinhart, 19, was returned to the Kootenay Ice after his ninth game last fall. Although he still needs work in the face-off circle and in the D-zone, this time the teenage centre sticks around. With Evander Kane now out with a knee injury, the Sabres need all the talent up front they can get.
Opening the campaign on the Red Wings' top line, 19-year-old Larkin racked up seven points through eight games and is tied for the club lead in power-play and game-winning goals.
Not yet trusted to kill penalties, 2015's fifth-overall pick has impressed enough to be just one of five Hurricanes to dress all eight games. Hanifin has chipped in with a couple assists (both even-strength), and with James Wisniewski sidelined, Carolina's blue line isn't deep enough to demote the rookie.
Learning curve? What learning curve? After back-to-back 100-point seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, it's difficult to see any logic in sending Ehlers back there. The freshman has already scored three goals and added three assists in eight games for the Jets.
ON THE BUBBLE
Here is where things get interesting. The Canucks are in the unique position of having two forwards eligible for an entry-level slide. Club president Trevor Linden told Vancouver radio that McCann "gets it," explaining how impressed he's been by the 19-year-old's positioning and work ethic down low. McCann has scored two goals at even strength and is seeing more time than...
Linden says Virtanen, who was drafted 18 spots earlier than fellow first-rounder McCann in 2014, was the one "penciled in" to have a legitimate shot with big club this fall. Yet the B.C. kid has yet to register a point and is seeing a team-low eight minutes of ice time per game. If we had to wager: McCann stays, Virtanen gets another year of seasoning with the Calgary Hitmen.
The 18-year-old wing has skated in six of the Penguins' first eight games and has scored once — a pretty one, too. Considering the 2015 second-rounder's age (18) and the Penguins' forward depth, we wouldn't be surprised to see Sprong returned to the QMJHL's Charlottetown Islanders after Game 9, as even making the opening-night roster was impressive. The Post-Gazette's Dave Molinari argues that Sprong deserves to stay, writing that he has "never looked out of place" in the NHL. Still, he ranks 13th in average ice time (10:13) among Pittsburgh's forwards.
After missing six games with a concussion (welcome to the league, kid!), Fabbri returns to the Blues lineup Tuesday having played two games and scoring one goal. The 19-year-old needs more ice time to avoid being sent back to the OHL's Guelph Storm, but injuries to core forwards Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny may result in an opportunity here.
RETURNED TO SENDER
After six games and zero points in a bottom-six look-see, the winger was sent down to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Thursday. Rantanen was replaced by 23-year-old Dennis Everberg, who played 55 games with the Avalanche last season.
The 20-year-old Russian winger scored his first NHL goal this month after getting a call-up when Logan Couture went down with a broken leg, but he was returned to the AHL after three games.
(stats via NHL.com, generalfanager.com)